One early morning two years ago, a high school student in Guangzhou was infuriated when his parents tried to stop him from playing online video games following an all-night gaming session at home. He lost his mind, ran to the kitchen, picked up a knife and hacked at both his father and mother.
Although his parents fortunately survived the injuries, they had to endure physical and mental agony and take on a lengthy healing process to repair their broken family bond. The tragedy highlighted the dangers that gaming addiction poses to minors and students in China, the world’s largest market for online games.
According to China’s latest report on Internet development, the number of netizens in the country reached 800 million as of the end of June. More than 174 million of them were no older than 20 and 29 million were under 10.
The lack of enforceable regulations and lax supervision by law enforcement, gaming companies and parents have led to a failure in curbing gaming addiction, especially among minors. From time to time, people can be seen petitioning under Tencent’s office building in Nanshan, demanding a refund after their children used their smartphones to top up gaming accounts in huge amounts without their knowledge. Tencent, the world’s largest gaming company, also frequently comes under attack for its hand in juvenile addiction.
Earlier this month, China unveiled new rules aimed at preventing minors from “indulging in online games.” The new guidelines spell out six measures, including a ban on online video games for people under 18 between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. Minors will also be restricted to 90 minutes of game time every day except during national holidays, when a maximum of three hours is allowed.
Gamers are also required to register accounts for online games using their real name and phone number, which will help regulate playing time. All gamers must sign up with their WeChat account, phone number or ID number.
The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television said it is working with the Ministry of Public Security to lead the construction of a unified identification system, which would provide user identification services to video game companies, so that they can accurately verify the identities of minors.
The new regulations also set a limit on the amounts that can be spent on online games. According to the new rules, gamers aged from 8 to 16 can top up a maximum of 200 yuan (US$29) to their accounts per month. People between 16 to 18 years old can transfer up to 400 yuan per month to their gaming accounts.
In 2018, the World Health Organization officially recognized video game addiction as a mental health condition. The criteria doesn’t define a certain amount of hours played. Rather, gaming addiction is described as an inability to stop playing even though it interferes with other important areas of life.
The tougher regulations mark a good beginning for China to tackle video game addiction.
Gaming companies should act more responsibly. With the availability of facial recognition technology, they should have the resources to introduce new features to prevent minors from using the account numbers of grown-ups. New technologies will also make it possible to detect unhealthy gaming behaviors. Gaming companies should take on more social responsibility even as this could erode their profitability.
Parental guidance is also very important. Some parents with children addicted to video games are avid gamers too. They should be aware that when they indulge themselves in video games, they are setting a bad example for their children.
Parents should plan diverse and healthy family activities, like reading, painting, playing music, outdoor exercise and park visits. In this way, they can help their children reduce time spent on video games and at the same time develop a variety of healthy hobbies.
Parents should also take effective measures to prevent their children from using their smartphones to play games and top up gaming accounts. They should hold themselves accountable when failing to supervise their children in using mobile phones.
(The author is head of the Shenzhen Daily News Desk.)